For Father’s Day: How About Some Balance?

    Working dads find it hard to juggle jobs and personal lives

By Dana Wilkie Jun 12, 2014

Today’s fathers may be more involved in child care and housework than their own dads were, but that doesn’t mean they feel their employers support them when they try to balance jobs with family responsibilities.

In fact, scholars, think tanks and HR consultants during the past three years have reported that:

  • Only 12 percent of fathers took paid paternity leave when it was offered, compared with 69 percent of mothers.

  • In male-dominated workplaces, men who have a lot of child care responsibilities receive more “masculinity harassment” than other employees, such as being teased, put down or excluded.

  • Fathers who use flexible work arrangements often do so informally—that is, “off the books”—indicating they might not be flexing with the full support of their employers.

  • Nearly half of working dads feel they spend too little time with their kids.

“I think women are more used to juggling multiple roles than men,” said Kelly Walsh, president of 1 Smart Career, an executive coaching firm in Cary, N.C. “They are both citing difficulties, but the number of men doing so has significantly increased.”

The Femininity Stigma

A 2011 Pew Research Center studyfound that working mothers tended to live more balanced lives than men: Fathers reported spending, on average, 37 hours at work, 10 hours doing household chores and seven hours on child care. Mothers reported dividing their hours more equitably been the three tasks—21 hours at work, 18 hours on house chores and 14 hours on child care.

Nearly half of the fathers who participated in the study (46 percent) said they spent too little time with their children.

Joan C. Williams, a distinguished professor of law at the University of California Hastings and director of the university’s Center for WorkLife Law, wrote in a February 2013 Washington Post article that men face as many struggles as women—if not more—when it comes to using flexible work policies, because child care is still largely viewed as a feminine role.

For instance, Williams wrote, men who took parental leave are less likely to be recommended for promotions, raises or high-profile assignments.

“What became clear [from Williams’ research] was not just that men were penalized for taking leaves, but why,” Walsh said. “They were seen as bad workers precisely because they were thought to have traits traditionally viewed as feminine—being weak, insecure, emotional or naïve. In other words, the flexibility stigma—a term coined by Williams—is a femininity stigma.”

A 2011 Boston College Center for Work & Family study found that:

  • 1 percent of fathers took more than four weeks off to be with newborns.

  • 1 in 20 fathers took as much as two weeks.

  • 75 percent took off one week or less.

  • 16 percent did not take any time off.

“If [taking time off] were easy or accepted [for fathers], I contend they would take it,” Walsh said.

The same study showed that a surprisingly high number of fathers used flexible work arrangements, but often informally.

“As a matter of culture, [employers should] support men taking paternity leave or flexing around personal caregiving as needed," Walsh said. "A business leader should support men in the same way they support women in the same positions.”

June Carbone, co-author of Marriage Markets: How Inequality is Remaking the American Family (Oxford, 2014), cautioned that the Pew study needs to be examined in the context of family structure and income.

“If we were to go back to 1965, the amount of time men spent in the workplace did not vary much by class,” said Carbone, a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School. “White-collar and blue-collar men worked about the same number of hours and reported about the same amount of leisure time, and the married mothers in both groups tended to be full-time homemakers.

“Today, the highest earning men and women both report very long hours and significant tension between work and family. Mothers and fathers find it difficult for both to continue working such hours, and the most common response is for mothers to cut back on their hours or to stop working outside the home altogether. The men who continue working 40-plus-hour weeks experience considerable work-family tension.”

Carbone also noted that working mothers are more likely to pick occupations that offer greater flexibility, such as teaching.

Paid Paternity Leave

Parental leave in the U.S. is generally 12 weeks, and unpaid, under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which applies only to employees at companies with 50 or more workers. This leave period is shorter than average for other countries. In Denmark, for example, parents can take up to a year off after a baby is born, and in some circumstances the entire leave is paid. Sweden provides 68 weeks of paid maternity leave; Norway allows 56 weeks. The U.S. is the only OECD country that does not have a national paid-leave policy for mothers and fathers after a baby is born. Some states and companies do provide partial wages and longer time away from work than federal law allows.

According to Aon Hewitt, an HR services provider, 13 percent of U.S. companies offer paid paternity leave. Even when it is offered, however, men tend to be reluctant to take advantage of it. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology found that only 12 percent of fathers took paid paternity leave when it was available, compared with 69 percent of mothers.

“At a minimum, I would like to see a world where it is simply a normal, expected, and encouraged part of our culture for a father to be at home and involved in the early weeks of his newborn’s life,” Walsh said. “That requires a culture shift more than a policy and an expectation from top leaders that it is acceptable.”

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.


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